Getting Rid of Bad Teachers

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By now everyone has heard about the fate of Central Falls High School in Providence where 93 teachers, guidance counselors and administrators were fired two weeks ago. Eleventh graders at the school had a 7% passing rate on a standardized math test this year. Fewer than half of the students graduate in four years. The school is clearly underperforming. Firing the teachers was not the Board’s first choice, but occurred after talks with the union broke down. The Superintendant was clear about his expectations and intentions well in advance, so the firings came as no surprise.

 My favorite version (tongue in cheek) of the story can be found at the Party for Socialism and Liberation website:

http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2/1499632738?page=NewsArticle&id=13738&news_iv_ctrl=1261

There you will find all of the reasons why the firings were justified, but I will focus on a few key points.

The main problem with government run schools like Central Halls is the government role and the structure it creates, not the teachers. Like any profession, there are good teachers and bad ones, but the system does little to distinguish between the two. Unions and most educators alike argue against “running a school like a business” because “the kids are too important.” Instead of emphasizing real outcomes, they concentrate on inputs such as certifications, degrees, years of experience, and following proper procedure in preparing lesson plans. There’s nothing wrong with any of these inputs per se, but they miss the point. In the end, it’s all about the progress kids make at the end of the year.

Educators often oppose the use of test scores and other outcomes for evaluating teacher effectiveness, arguing that teachers can’t control what goes on at home. This is both true and an obvious hindrance to good teaching. Teacher evaluations should be based on actual test scores, with an emphasis on the progress their students make—the difference between proficiency on day-1 and day-180 of the school year. Those who teach kids in poor neighborhoods shouldn’t get a complete pass because of the trying circumstances they must endure. Blaming the problem on “low funding” just doesn’t cut it.

Most of all, I am struck by the defense proffered by the fired teachers. I saw a photo of one holding a sign that read “We care about our students. Our students care about us. We are family!” Frankly, caring is just not good enough. This decision is about performance, and many teachers don’t seem to get it. We expect our mechanics to fix our cars, not care for them. We expect our doctors to cure our maladies, not just view us as a family member. Sure, caring about kids is a great thing, but it’s not sufficient. Schools should be managed for the benefit of the kids, not the teachers.

There’s another lesson here. Join a union and you get the union, for better or worse. I suspect that some of the fired teachers are doing a good job, but they were part of the collective. The good teachers in the group are now enduring the wrath that should have been directed at their poor performing colleagues.

I must close by giving tentative credit where it’s due. While I favor a reduced (or eliminated) federal role in education, Secretary Arne Duncan is one of the few competent Obama appointees. Obama and Duncan are arguing that the firings are necessary, at least for the time being. Frankly, I expect Obama to capitulate to union pressure on this issue in the coming months. I am guessing that some sort of “compromise” will be forged and many of these teachers will be “un-fired” before new ones are actually hired. The amount of federal education money flowing into education budgets is staggering, and this funding gives politicians and bureaucrats in Washington a lot of indirect control over what happens at the local level. For the kids’ sake, I hope that the Board in Providence stands its ground.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Curt R  •  Mar 9, 2010 @7:23 AM

    Your analysis is right on, but there’s something suspicious about this. Obama favors firing bad teachers? This must be a setup.